So I woke up this morning after my first night at the home stay. I was greeted by the sounds of mangoes falling onto our roof, rain, roosters and various other animals – apparently it is a Mayan tradition to knock on wood when you hear geckos around, and then they ‘talk’ to you. I haven’t tried it yet, but maybe I should!
Andrea and I had breakfast with our ‘mum’ and family this morning. There was a girl around Andrea’s age (I think she may have been a volunteer) and a younger girl who I am presuming was a daughter. Andrea was chatting to them in Spanish, which I didn’t really understand, but I caught bits like the word “smoothie”! We had some lovely sweet bread, scrambled eggs with sausage and onion, and rice with beans. They also gave us coffee and fresh melon juice, which was absolutely beautiful. I helped clear up and thanked the family – I know they didn’t understand what I was saying, but I hope my manners went far, regardless of the language. The experience made me wish perhaps that I had learnt Spanish at school instead of German though: it was a shame to miss out on what they had to say. From what the others in the group were saying, the rest of the families seemed equally as nice, and served similar breakfasts.
At 9am most of us went on a cultural tour of the island. On the journey our driver gave us some information about Ometepe: the literal meaning of the name is “island of two volcanoes” and it has a population of around 42,000 people. 60 percent of those people rely on agriculture for work, and the remaining percentage of work is mainly between fishing and tourism. The main products exported by Ometepe are plantains, tobacco and sesame seeds, and a runway is in the process of being built. The volcanoes on the island erupt roughly every 45 years, however currently they have not erupted for 56 years, so another is expected very soon. Although no one died in the last eruptions of the 1950s, the population is now a lot higher and if evacuation is required, the island may have a problem as it only has six ferries. Lake Nicaragua is the biggest lake in Central America and is home to the infamous bull sharks – I won’t be going in there then!
We visited a couple of nature reserves, called Charco Verde and Albergue, which were beautiful. We were shown various landmarks, for example, a typical volcanic ash beach, and the green lagoon. The algae in it make it affectionately known as “the place where the gods pee”. Many of our views were lined with wind turbines – the island, similarly to Roatan in Honduras, relies on wind and hydroelectricity so there are also regular power cuts.
We looked at some of the scarier flora and fauna of Nicaragua: the national tree of Honduras, the sabre tree, is respected by locals as it is believed to contain souls of the dead; a tree that crushes and strangles things; a plant called something like “miasmas” which closes when touched, proving that plants have feelings, apparently. We also had a scary moment when we had to be absolutely silent in the forest as we walked past a hive of massive wasps, which will sting you, give you a fever and kill you if disturbed. Naturally, everyone was worried about me after the jellyfish incident…
We also got to see traditional Mayan petroglyphs from 300-500AD, which were pretty cool, but hard to tell what they were. I picked a mango to eat in a few days when it becomes ripe, and we spotted an iguana too! The guide pointed out the jicaro fruit, which is not eaten (oh, and it only grows after passing through a cow’s gut first!) but crushed to produce a chocolatey drink which I tried yesterday. It was really different!
We then went out for lunch, and I had something called churrasco, which is a beef steak with an olive oil, garlic and parsley sauce. It was gorgeous, although I have decided I am not a fan of the island’s delicacy plantain. After lunch we headed into town and I bought some souvenirs and postcards. We then went to the beach to see the sunset, and the backdrop was incredible – I walked up to the point where you can see both island volcanoes at once, which is apparently how the first human would have walked on to the island. The volcanic ash is so fertile too that lots of plants were growing on the beach, even fungi; it is such an unusual island.
Andrea and I then returned to our home, which was overrun by horses, pigs, chickens and suchlike, to have dinner with our family. It was really good; we had chicken in gravy with fruit salad, beans, rice and avocado (which I actually liked! I usually hate it!). Marvin ate with us as well, which was great as he encouraged a mix of both languages so we could all talk together. It was very relaxing and it was amazing to experience some local culture.
Tonight we are just having a couple of drinks in a cafe, and then I’m going to get an early night. We have to get up to leave at 6am as apparently we have a really hard border crossing – but hopefully by tomorrow night, I’ll be in Costa Rica, baby!